The Burden of Superman

We here at The NYRD have been doing a lot of soul searching. Any loss of innocent lives is worth a pause and a prayer, but being New Yorkers we feel a kinship with those who have lived through the events of cowardly and horrific acts of terror. Our hearts and our thoughts are with our brothers and sisters across the Atlantic, in the Middle East, and everywhere else there is suffering. In situations such as these it is always the “what ifs” that cause the most pain. What if someone had gone left instead of right? What if that person had decided not to go out that night? What if an attack could have been predicted and stopped? What if we had the power to never let something like this happen again?

When Gods Watch the News
So it is in these times that we often find ourselves marveling at the Man of Steel. Superman, has more power than any person could ever dream to have. His speed and strength are matched only by his heart. The boy in blue has a true desire to protect the innocent and save the world, and yet for all his power, he is a failure. Sure he will stop the schemes of Lex Luthor or the machinations of the Legion of Doom, but no one will ever be 100% safe. Crime, poverty, death, and fear will never go away even with the entire Justice League patrolling the skies of our world. Yet, it is in times of tragedy that we all wish we were Superman, if only because we want to stop the pain and the suffering, but could we really?

If we were the Last Son of Krypton, enjoying a hot cup of coffee at home in our small Metropolis apartment and we turned on the news to see the chaos of the terrorism, the poverty, and the general state of the world, what would we feel? Sure, maybe we spent the morning punching an asteroid out of a collision course with the planet, but that kind of problem is easy. How do you solve deeper systemic issues of hatred, of terror, and of greed? What would a near-god feel when he saw the state of our world? Would he feel sadness, pity, anger, or maybe frustration?

Terrorism and extremism are not things you can just punch or heat vision away. The chaos that exists, exists because we are human and because we are different and because we have the freedom to be so. Most sane people know to voice their differences in the debate rooms or sporting arenas, but there will always be that small minority -of any religion- who will try to solve it with hatred and violence. The Man of Steel can survive bullets and bomb blasts, but what can he do when he is not there to help those who cannot?

Justifying the End
It is perhaps no small wonder that most Superman comics are not about Clark Kent taking over the world and declaring himself its protector-king. It would be an almost small task for him to accomplish, global domination for the sake of saving the world. It almost sounds noble. It almost sounds sane. It is wonder that there are not more stories about superheroes going all “Ozymandias” on the world. Sure there are always alternate timeline stories, but those are portrayed as unrealistic. Maybe the truth is that they are the most realistic. After all, if Superman really cared about saving everybody in the world he would accept the burden that dictatorship brought. If he really cared he would bring the corruption, the terrorism, the death, and violence to heel, by force if necessary. He must want to sometimes. He must look at the world and have that thought cross his mind when he sees dying children and when he hears the calls of starving families.

How does the most powerful man on the planet sit in his apartment on nights where every news stations plays footage of bomb blasts, starving children, and systemic genocide? How does Ka-El of Krypton feel when he arrives too late to do anything more than help with clean up? He must sometimes think about taking control and ending it. All he would need to do is reach out his hand and the world could be his to hold and squeeze. It may not be pretty, or heroic, but it would be effective. Taking away the freedom to be different and imposing his will would ensure peace and security. It would ensure that no innocent man, woman, or child ever had to feel unsafe in the streets of their homes or cower in fear of what the morning would bring. Under the steel rule of Superman, things like hunger, war, terrorism, and even global warming could all be erased. Is that not worth any cost, even freedom?

It Means Hope
We admire the restraint of Superman, because when we watch the news we question if we could exercise it. Yet, maybe the Man of Steel knows something we don’t. Maybe Clark Kent is a reporter not to find places he is needed, but to remind himself why he can never stop trying and never stop being Superman. We like to think that he sees the truth in it all, because these acts of butchery and cowardice are not committed by the majority, but a small small minority. Giving up our freedom in the name of security is no different than surrendering to the terror that these villains seek to impose. Clark knows that the world does not need an all-powerful emperor, but a symbol of all the things that can be good about humanity. The real power of Superman is not in his strength or flight, but his ability to inspire us to be better, to make the world better. He gives us the example we strive to live up to, because he knows that the vast majority of people aren’t the bad guys and together we are stronger.

That is why we love superheroes, not because of the capes or the explosions, but because they remind us about the best of what we are. It is why we invoke their symbols and their imagery in times of tragedy and it is their examples that  give us strength to be a little stronger, a little faster, and a little better when surrounded by chaos. They are also not alone, because with any tragedy you may find very few villains but a hell of a lot more heroes. Police, firefighters, soldiers, brothers, sisters, regular people who do the right thing. Like the people of Paris who opened their doors to strangers in need on the scariest night of their lives. People like that help, not because they are superhuman but because none of us are.

Superman is not real. He can’t take over the world and fix our problems for us, but the example he gives us is real, and it is only one of thousands of examples we see everyday from good and real people. We all need to be the heroes we want to see in our lives, because maybe one day, we can save the world, together. Until then, we hold all those who have been affected by violence and terror in our thoughts.

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